DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Chandra and Mike Langseth would love to be able to say they had a "Goldilocks" cropping season where everything went "just right." But as harvest draws to a close for the Barney, North Dakota, farmers, they were mostly giving thanks this week that crop yields turned out much better than expected given drought conditions.
The final rows aren't far off for the couple. Approximately 250 acres of corn remained in the field on Nov. 16. But it has been a tedious harvest. Everything from winter conditions to equipment snafus have complicated the process.
"It's been a lot of nagging little stuff that has kept us from being as efficient with harvest as I would have liked," said Mike. "But we're not complaining about the results, given the weather year we've had."
Harvest has finished for Zachary (Zach) Grossman, but it hasn't diminished the number of farm chores for the Tina, Missouri, farmer. Fall work was in full swing this week -- from applying anhydrous to weaning calves.
"The difference is fall work is a more relaxed busy (time) than when we are rushing to get the crop out," said Grossman.
Grossman and the Langseths have been reporting in this season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. The diary-like feature has followed their crops from planting to present day and included commentary on a variety of rural issues.
This week the young farmers reflect on the crop and how it survived drought conditions to show surprising resiliency. What they learned boils down to one common thought: When it comes to farming, patience may be the most critical input.
This is the 28th feature in the series. Readers interested in participating in the 2024 View From the Cab project should email Pamela Smith at email@example.com.
ZACHARY GROSSMAN: TINA, MISSOURI
This time of year, when the sun sets early, farm operations take on a different kind of urgency.
"Everything is going like gangbusters around here," Grossman said. "You name it -- it is all happening right now. We have some significant chances of rain coming next week. By then, we should have all the anhydrous on that we want on and about all the P (phosphorus) and K (potassium). The co-op is spreading lime on some acres.
"We are running in-line rippers on acreage we feel needs it. Corn stalks are being vertically tilled," he said. "Fall tillage is probably one of the most relaxing jobs there is on the farm -- if there ever is such a thing."
When he finished planting wheat earlier this fall, Grossman took his planter in for a maintenance check of wear on parts. The local shop texted this week to say the service work was complete and Grossman joked that with all the fertilizer on and tillage done, he might as well just head back to the field and start planting again. He was joshing, but on today's farm, downtime is a misnomer, he observed.
Still, getting a head start on next year provides a feeling of comfort for the farmer. On this farm, fall anhydrous application is held to what Grossman calls "hill ground." Lower lying, bottomland acres are left until spring to avoid nitrogen losses should those fields happen to get overly wet.
"The bottom line is we will have gas on 600 to 700 acres of hill ground this fall. That's more than enough to get us started planting in the spring as we wait for the bottoms to get fit for application," he said.
He goes into this fall needing additional rainfall. The latest USDA Crop Progress Report for Missouri indicates 18% of the state's topsoil rates very short on moisture, 35% short and 47% adequate. Subsoil moisture was rated at 27% very short, 33% short and 40% adequate.
Rainfall wasn't much of a factor in harvest delays this fall where he farms in Livingston and Carroll counties. The crop progress report pegged corn harvest in the state as 94% complete compared to 91% for a five-year average. Soybean harvest was rated as 91% complete compared to 80% for a five-year average.
While the grip of enduring drought hasn't lost its hold on him, Grossman admitted that he's struggled to mentally match it with the yields the farm recorded in 2023.
"I had to remind myself during harvest that we had a drought and a pretty bad one," he said. "I sound like an old man, and I'm not, but if you had told me 10 years ago that we would have the summer that we did, I would have said our crop would not be very good and it would be one of those 'not fun' harvests."
Far from a disaster, the whole farm yield averages for both the corn and soybeans in 2023 exceeded the farm's actual production history (APH). "I attribute a lot of that to the genetics we are planting today and the fact that they seem to be able to survive on a sip of rain -- because that's what we got -- a handful of little bitty, quarter-inch-at-the-most sips and one big August deluge," he recalled.
The 12 inches of rainfall the farm recorded over two weeks in early August helped dry matter accumulation in corn and gave beans a drink when they needed it most, he figured. But the fact the crop fared well in between those rains tells him something else was at work.
"Because that's always what we've thought -- you have to start the year hoping for rain or you aren't going to have anything to harvest. I might have to adjust my thinking a little moving forward based on this year's experience.
"It's something of a comfort as I look to the future, because I've seen the crop survive this year. You never say never, but the yield experienced this year (does) provide some reassurance," Grossman said.
He understands other parts of Missouri didn't fare as well. He feels for cattlemen forced to sell off cattle as drought took a toll on pastures this past summer.
That thought was on his mind last week as he pulled calves off mothers. "If we hadn't gotten that rain in August to get the grass back going, it would have been a really bad situation.
"I was geared up to survive," he said, giving a nod to baling CRP acres and taking advantage of baling as much second-cutting hay as possible. "But I haven't had to feed hay yet, thanks to that rain giving us some fall pasture," Grossman said.
An assessment of cow condition post weaning and current pasture conditions convinced him he could hold off on hay for a few more days. He is feeding some liquid supplement to those cows, and they were still picking at available grass. Making it to mid-November before having to feed hay feels like an accomplishment this year, he said.
"We can't control the weather. We can only control what we do. This year has been a bit of a grind, but one thing I know is things usually come right," Grossman observed. "It takes a lot of faith to be a farmer. This year proved that."
CHANDRA AND MIKE LANGSETH: BARNEY, NORTH DAKOTA
Mike is looking forward to working normal hours again and maybe even taking a day off once the last corn kernels are in the bin. Harvest has been a bit of a slog.
This is the first year for Mike to assume full management of the farm and it has been filled with interesting experiences and decisions. Perhaps most important was the lesson to not let small setbacks derail operations or eat away at attitude.
That learning was put to the test last week when a combine bearing went out, a bracket broke and the cleaning fan crashed into the housing. Obtaining parts required a 10-hour roundtrip run to Minot. The good news is the farm's second combine was able to keep operations moving, even if it was at a slightly slower pace.
"With exception of weather delays, we were never completely kept out of the field. However, I wish we would have had a few more days when we were running full capacity with both machines," Mike said.
Yield victories help soften those hiccups. While harvest is still ongoing and yield maps haven't been scrutinized yet, the whole farm averages on corn appear to be in the vicinity of 200 bushels per acre (bpa). Average soybean yields came in at 48 bpa. Both numbers fall slightly above the farm's APH and reflect yield goals set for the year.
Chandra wasn't overwhelmingly surprised by those yield numbers, despite limited rainfall experienced throughout the season. "Beans are always a question, but we'd pulled enough ears and done enough corn yield checks to know the potential was there," she said. "So, I was cautiously optimistic all season. Still, I'm pretty pumped at what it actually made."
Mike said his take-home from the season is that wet is worse than dry. "You can hurt yield potential more in the first month to six weeks by planting into a wet seedbed than if it is dry all summer," Mike said.
"We saw it this year. The spots where we mudded in a little bit are the worst part of the field because of poor establishment. You lose a big percentage of yield potential if early season planting conditions are not good," he added.
Granted, the farm had acres that did 180 to 185 bpa that could have yielded 200 to 220 bpa with 3 inches more rainfall, he noted. "But those acres also didn't do 110 or 130 bpa.
"I knew we weren't walking into a train wreck because we'd done the yield checks. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see an extra 15 bpa that I wasn't certain was there," Mike said.
Soybeans behave similarly, he added. "It was wet, but not terribly wet, early. It's important to not get flooded out in May and June. In other years we've lost a lot of yield potential in May on beans."
The fact the season wasn't brutally hot helped alleviate some of the effects of drought on both crops. Irrigation on half their acreage also softened the blow.
"We put a lot of effort into keeping irrigators running longer than we are used to. Starting them in June really paid off," Chandra said.
So did tile, even though the year was extremely dry. "Our tiled ground outperformed untilled ground by a decent margin and one might think it shouldn't have mattered this year," she said. "Tile keeps telling us that it makes sense to continue investing in it at a reasonable pace."
When the remainder of the acres are harvested and the dust settles, the couple looks forward to sitting down with all the yield maps to confirm what they think happened this year. On their farm, the only fall work is some ditching projects if weather allows. Fertility needs are addressed in the spring.
Mike defines a "Goldilocks year" as perfect planting conditions with every seed in the ground by May 25. That's followed by an inch of rain every Saturday and 85-degree Fahrenheit temperatures during the growing season. Harvest is complete by Halloween and oh yeah ... nothing breaks.
Such perfection is a pipe dream and one thing about enduring a roller coaster year is the knowledge it can be endured. "Probably the biggest lesson we learned this year is one of patience and there's only so much you can control," Chandra said.
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